Heart palpitations are characterized by a racing, pounding, or missed heartbeat sensation, which can occur even during rest or normal activities. While generally not harmful, they may sometimes indicate an abnormal heart rhythm that requires medical attention or signal a more serious heart condition. Often caused by stress, anxiety, or excessive consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, palpitations usually resolve on their own over time. Pregnant women may also experience palpitations. For stress management resources, you can check out Amar Jain Hospital.
Heart palpitations can present with several different symptoms, such as irregular or skipped beats, rapid fluttering, a too-fast or pounding heart rate, or a flip-flopping sensation in the chest.
Palpitations can have various causes, some related to the heart and others unknown. Strong emotions like anxiety, fear, or stress can trigger palpitations, as can strenuous physical activity. Consumption of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or certain illegal drugs like cocaine and amphetamines can also cause palpitations. Medical conditions such as thyroid disease, low blood sugar, anemia, low blood pressure, fever, and dehydration can lead to palpitations. Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause can also be a cause. Certain medications, including diet pills, decongestants, asthma inhalers, and drugs for arrhythmia or an underactive thyroid, as well as some herbal and nutritional supplements, can cause palpitations. Imbalanced electrolyte levels can also be a factor.
If you're experiencing heart palpitations, it may be helpful to identify and avoid triggers that can cause these symptoms. Additionally, there are some techniques and lifestyle changes that may be useful in stopping heart palpitations. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, may help manage stress and anxiety that can lead to palpitations. Deep breathing exercises can also help regulate heart rate and rhythm. It's important to avoid caffeine and energy drinks, as well as drugs like cocaine and amphetamines, which can contribute to palpitations. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage heart palpitations.
Heart palpitations can be a cause of concern for individuals who have a history of heart disease, including prior heart attacks, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, heart muscle problems, or heart failure. It is also a matter of concern if the palpitations are accompanied by symptoms such as pain, pressure, or tightness around the chest, neck, jaw, arm, or upper back, shortness of breath, unusual sweating, or if the symptoms are new or getting worse. In such cases, it is advisable to seek medical attention promptly.
If a doctor suspects that heart palpitations are caused by arrhythmia or some other heart condition, they may recommend certain diagnostic tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) which records the electrical signals of the heartbeat using leads placed around the chest area. A stress electrocardiogram may be performed during exercise. Holter monitoring is another test where a portable device records a continuous ECG for 24 to 72 hours while the patient keeps a record of palpitations. Event recording is a similar test, but is done over a longer period of time and is activated by the patient when they experience symptoms of a quick heart rate. An echocardiogram, which is a non-invasive examination that uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart, may also be performed to detect blood flow and structural problems.
Palpitations may not require treatment if they are harmless and subside on their own. However, if the doctor cannot identify the cause of palpitations, it is recommended to avoid triggers that often exacerbate the symptoms. These may include managing anxiety and stress by practicing relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi, biofeedback, or guided imagery. Additionally, eliminating certain foods, beverages, and substances such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and illicit drugs may also be helpful. It is advised to avoid medications that often act as stimulants, including cough and cold medicines, and certain herbal or nutritional supplements. If lifestyle changes do not improve the symptoms, medications such as beta-blockers or calcium-channel blockers may be prescribed by the doctor.
These are some of the risk factors that can increase a person's likelihood of developing palpitations. Other risk factors include consuming excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol, using illegal drugs, and experiencing dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. It's important to note that sometimes palpitations can occur without any apparent cause or risk factor. In such cases, the underlying cause may be unknown or benign.
Complications from palpitations are uncommon unless they are caused by an underlying heart condition. In such cases, possible complications include fainting, cardiac arrest, stroke, and heart failure. Fainting can occur if the heart beats rapidly, leading to a significant drop in blood pressure, which is more common in people with pre-existing heart problems. Palpitations caused by life-threatening arrhythmias can result in cardiac arrest. Atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the upper heart chambers quiver instead of contracting effectively, can cause blood to pool, leading to the formation of clots that may travel to the brain and block an artery, resulting in a stroke. Heart failure can occur if an arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation causes the heart to pump ineffectively over a prolonged period of time. It can be prevented by controlling the rate of arrhythmia, which can improve heart function.
In most cases, heart palpitations are not a cause for alarm and tend to resolve on their own without any complications. People who experience palpitations can usually continue with their daily activities without any major concerns.